You may be surprised to hear that treats are a great way to train your cat. They are also great way to bond with your cat. Everyone enjoys treats, so why doesn’t your cat like them? 

Why does my cat not eat treats?

You proudly present your cat with  a treat. You are shocked and disappointed when they show no interest in the treat. You wonder if its the wrong treat, or if you’ve done something wrong. What is going on?

Not the Right Kind of Treats

There are many different kinds of cat treats. In addition to different flavors and ingredients, they come in different types and textures. Some cats enjoy moist treats, while others want a dehydrated or freeze dried snack. If you’ve only given your cat one type of treat, they may simply prefer another type. 

Negative Association 

Cats have a strong associative memory. This means they will remember emotions associated with different triggers. If your cat had a negative experience while enjoying a treat, they will remember this. They associate the treat with the negative experience, and will naturally avoid it. 

For example, you need your cat to take a medicine. You smartly hide it in their favorite treat. The medicine tastes bad, and your cat is not happy about being tricked. They can easily assume that the treat was the offender, and no longer want them. 

This can also occur if your cat was scared while eating a treat. Loud noises or other animals are common, but traumatic, experiences for many pets. Again, they relate the treat to the bad experience, and expect something bad to happen if they have the treat. 

Wrong Order

Your cat can also develop a negative association if you are using the treat as a lure or distraction. For example, your cat is at the vet and needs a vaccine. 

You offer them a treat before or during the vaccination. Your intention is to make the bad experience better by providing the treat. However, the cat feels that the treat brought about the painful shot. 

This can occur in a wide variety of situations. For example, you clip your cats nails. Your cat hates it. You give them a treat before clipping. You think this will put them in a better mood, and help them form a positive association with the clipping. 

Instead, your cat associates the treat with the nail clipping. They think when they get the treat, it brings about the nail clipping. 

Free Feeding

If you free feed your cat, they may be full. Many cats have a hard time controlling their food intake. This can lead to obesity. If your cat can control their appetite, they will not eat when they are full. 

If you offer them a treat, but they’ve filled up on their regular food, they will not be interested. Their body tells them they don’t need more food at that moment. 

Fear of Trying Something New

Cats can be afraid of trying new things just like humans can. Kids are notorious for saying “I don’t like that” just because they haven’t tried it. It’s a built in survival instinct. We know things we have already consumed are safe, because we are still alive. When it comes to something new, there’s an uncertainty about it’s safety. 

Expired Food

Expired treats can put your cat off as well. How you store the treats will depend on the type. You’ll need to follow the storage instructions on the treat container. Store them in the original container, because it is designed to help keep them fresh. You can put them in an airtight storage bin or container. Just place the original container inside the storage container for best results. 

Treats have a long shelf life when stored properly, but always look at the expiration date. Food can begin to turn rancid or lose flavor and smell past this date. 

Illness

If your cat doesn’t want to eat due to illness, it will affect their regular food consumption as well. If your cat isn’t eating treats and is also eating less food, illness could be the culprit. 

Not eating itself can make your cat sick. Cats don’t have a large protein reserve in their body. Once extra protein is broken down, their body begins breaking down fat. This is hard for the liver to process. Your cat can quickly become sick from not getting enough food. 

There are many illnesses that can cause your cat not to eat. These range from fairly benign urinary tract infections to serious diseases like pancreatitis and cancer. If you notice a major change in your cat’s diet, you’ll need to get a veterinary checkup as soon as possible. 

How do I get my cat to eat a treat?

If you want to give your cat treats, there are ways to encourage them. It’s helpful to determine why they are refusing the treats in the first place. Then, you can focus on the solution. 

Different Types of Treats 

Cats today are lucky. There are many treat options available. If your cat doesn’t like one type, chances are you can find one that they do enjoy. 

Correct Order

Your cat can create a negative association if you give them a treat before or during a negative experience like a vaccination or nail clipping. To turn this around, you’ll need to give them the treat after the negative experience. 

This can help them feel better about the experience. The bad thing has occurred, then they get the good thing. Over time, this can cause them to feel better about the negative thing. They know when it’s over, they get a treat. 

If this is the issue, you’ll probably need to change the treat you are giving them. A different type of treat may not carry the same negative association as the treat you’ve been using. 

Introducing New Treats

If you suspect the culprit is your cat being afraid to try something new, you’ll need to move slowly. Choose a treat that’s similar to their regular food. If chicken is the main ingredient, choose a chicken treat. If your cat loves fish, start with a fish treat. 

Don’t push your cat to take the treat. Instead, offer it to them and be patient. They may only smell it at first. They may take a quick look and then move on. Keep offering the treat, and eventually they should take it. 

You can also begin by adding a treat to their food bowl. This allows them to interact with it at their own pace. Placing it in their bowl lets them know it’s food, and can make them more comfortable because the bowl is familiar. 

What can I give my cat instead of treats?

Before we consider what you can give your cat instead of treats, let’s look at the different types of treats. There’s a good chance that your cat loves treats, you just haven’t found the right one yet. 

Raw Treats

Raw treats are great for cats who crave raw meat. Cats are carnivorous hunters. Even your seemingly tame housecat has the instincts and desire of a tiger or lion. 

These treats also supplement their diet with essential nutrients. Cats require certain nutrients, like taurine, from their diet. Many animals can synthesize vitamins and minerals, but cats rely on their diet for them. Their bodies are designed to eat raw prey. 

Raw treats are usually frozen or refrigerated. Frozen treats are created using a flash freeze method that allows the treat to maintain it’s moisture and taste. 

Freeze Dried Treats

Freeze dried treats are similar to raw treats. They are essentially pieces of meat that have been freeze dried. It maintains most of the texture and taste of fresh meat, but it can be conveniently stored in your cabinet, instead of your freezer. 

Freeze dried treats come in different flavors, which are made from different meats. Fish, shrimp, and lamb are popular options. 

Moist  or Soft Treats

If you have a finicky feline that will only eat wet cat food, moist treats may be exactly what your kitty needs. They are made by some big cat food names, including Purina and Blue Buffalo, as well as smaller businesses like Tiki Cat. 

Most are made from natural ingredients from real meat. They typically don’t include fillers like grain or bone meal. They are available in a wide variety of flavors, and typically contain different types of meat. 

In addition to using them as cat treats, some moist treats can also be used as a food topper for their regular food. 

Flakes

Flakes are another potential treat for your kitty. These are similar to large fish flakes. They are typically made from dehydrated or freeze dried meat. However, they are sliced into paper thin flakes. They can be served on their own or added to your cat’s food. They are perfect for kittens and senior cats that may have a hard time chewing some other types of treats. 

Kibble Treats

Kibble, or hard treats, are a longstanding cat treat. They are easy to handle and simple to store. They are much like dry cat food. However, they are typically higher in calories, because they are intended to be eaten in moderation. 

Whole Fish

Technically, this falls under freeze dried, but it deserves its own category. If your cat loves fish, you can buy whole fish treats. These are typically minnows or sardines that are freeze dried whole. This gives your cat a more authentic dining experience. 

Dental Treats

Well meaning pet parents often reach for dental treats. Why not reward your cat and fight plaque at the same time? There’s nothing wrong with giving your cat a dental treat, but they aren’t likely to keep their mouth clean. Crunchy dental treats have not been found to do a great job with plaque removal. 

Jerky

Have a cat that loves to chew? They may enjoy jerky treats. These are similar to human jerky, but they are made with cat healthy ingredients and flavors. 

Play

Treats certainly have their place, but play shouldn’t be overlooked as a way to reward your cat. There are many reasons to play with your cat. 

It relieves boredom and gives them a way to express their natural hunting instincts. It also provides a way for you to bond. Playing together allows you to participate in something your cat enjoys. 

Attention

Despite their aloof reputation, most cats love attention. They simply want it on their terms. Petting your cat, nuzzling them, and simply talking to them are great ways to treat your favorite feline.

Toys

This is one thing cats and children have in common. They love toys. They also become bored with them fairly quickly. Give your cat different types of toys, but don’t leave them lying around on a regular basis. 

If they appear for playtime and are put away, your cat is less likely to lose interest in them. Every week or two, put a few toys away and get a few others out. They don’t have to be new, just toys your cat hasn’t seen recently. 

Can I feed my cat human food as a treat?

Yes. There are human foods that are safe and even healthy for your cat to eat. Human foods should be used as treats, and shouldn’t make up more than 10% of your kitty’s diet. They need cat food to get the correct nutritional balance, so human treats should be a supplement to their regular diet. 

Fruit

Surprisingly, your carnivorous cat can enjoy fruit in moderation. Some cats have a sweet tooth, and fruit is the perfect way to satisfy it. 

Apples, bananas, pears, and berries are all great for your cat. Other fruits like cherries are toxic to cats, so don’t just give them a bowl of fruit cocktail. 

Vegetables

Carrots, green beans, lettuce, and cucumbers are veggies you and your cat can enjoy together. Make a veggie plate and enjoy having a mutual snack. Pumpkin is also a great cat treat. It’s high in vitamins and minerals, and the fiber is good for their digestive system. Canned pumpkin is the easiest way to serve pumpkin to your kitty. Just be sure it is plain pumpkin, and not pumpkin pie filling. The pie filling has added sugar and spices that aren’t healthy for your cat. 

Dairy and Eggs

Cheese is an excellent snack for your cat. Give them a few cubes of your favorite cheese. Eggs are full of protein and healthy fats. Just be sure they are cooked, and avoid frying them with a high amount of oil. 

Meat

Cats can eat chicken, shrimp, and fish. Beef or pork can be given occasionally, but shouldn’t be fed to your cat often. When serving meat to your cat, it’s best to boil it with no seasoning. 

You can make a batch of kitty treats and then store them in the fridge or freezer. Remember that cooked refrigerated meats are only good for a few days. 

You can also give your cat canned fish. Look for tuna, sardines, or makeral that has been packed in water with no salt added. 

Grains and Rice

It’s safe to feed your cat small amounts of oatmeal or rice. It should be cooked to avoid stomach issues. Rice may help calm an upset stomach, and oatmeal is useful for skin problems topically as well as internally.

Oatmeal can be used to make homemade cat treats as well. Use oat flour for a crunchy treat, and whole oats for a chewier style. Combine 1/2 cup oats, 1 can salmon (can substitute tuna or sardines if preferred), 1/3 pumpkin, 1 egg and 2 tablespoons avocado oil. Mold into bite-size treats or roll them into chew sticks. Bake 30 minutes.  

Author

I created and currently run Kitty Cat Tips, the website that you can go to when you have questions about your cat's behavior. It's my hope that you find Kitty Cat Tips to be a helpful resource. It is also my hope that it will help you to improve your relationship with your cat. You can read more about me and my website here.